Queen Rania’s commencement speech at the La Roche College graduation 2002 - Pittsburgh, USA

May 04, 2002

Monsignor Kerr,

Members of the Faculty,

Parents, friends, and graduates of the class of 2002,

Good morning, and thank you for such a warm welcome. Monsignor Kerr, I thank you and the faculty for this honorary degree. To me, it is a very real honor. Because, I know that this degree is not a piece of paper about something I did. Instead, it is a “welcome letter” to an international community… a community of La Roche friends and alumni around the world … a community of men and women who are really living the message of Pacem in Terris, peace on Earth, through their professional lives and their public service. And I’m very proud to be counted as one among you.

But we are really here to celebrate these graduating students. Graduates, no one knows better than you, the hard work and many hours that led to this day. Gandhi called students “searchers.” I congratulate you on searching and researching your way through all the obstacles, to cross the finish line today.

Monsignor, I know that you and the faculty must be very proud of today’s graduates. Your own talent and hard work shines through their achievements.

And, everyone: please, join me in honoring the most important people in our gathering – the ones whose love and support helped make this day happen – the mothers and fathers and families of the graduating class.

Let me tell you, as a mother of three children under the age of eight, I look at you parents as proof that survival is possible!

But I also look at you students, and remember just how it felt to be in your shoes.

Graduation is a time to think back with relief … and forward, with impatience. You’ve cracked the books. You’ve passed the exams. You studied, debated, listened, learned. More importantly, you have learned the essential modern day art of subsisting on pizza alone.

Your education has given you wings. Now, you are set to soar – searching out a new future of promise.

But, the flight you make is not for yours’ alone. Like Noah’s dove, each of you flies out into a waiting world, carrying with you great hopes … the hopes of families, of communities, of countries, of humankind.

In that ancient story of the flood, shared by so many faiths, Noah’s dove carried an olive branch, a universal symbol of peace. It was his gift to those who waited for a sign of hope for a better world.

You, too, are carrying something on which many people depend: a branch of hope with three off-shoots: knowledge, character, and compassion.

The first off-shoot of your La Roche education is knowledge. Possess it, and you possess the key to a world of ability and innovation – in business, in healthcare, in technology, in teaching. The analytical skills and information you have learned here will help you create a future for yourselves, and many others. Through your knowledge and talent, you will help nations bloom.

Today, countries across the globe are realizing that to succeed, we must invest in education and research. For, like the living leaf, our knowledge must keep growing – reaching more people; promising a better future. Yet today, over 120 million children around the world never even get the chance to go to school, and millions more receive poor educations that don’t equip them to compete.

I was always taught that from those to whom much is given, much is expected. We who have had good educations have a special ability to give back. We can do something about the world’s grievances… and we must.

But if we are to succeed, knowledge of things is not enough. In college, surrounded by people of different backgrounds and experiences, you have acquired the most noteworthy kind of knowledge … the knowledge of people. Here at La Roche, you have had the special opportunity to interact closely with students from around the world. You’ve experienced for yourselves how interconnected this world is. You have learned how much we have in common, the values we share, and the positive results of teamwork and the team spirit. 

This kind of knowledge, this deep knowledge about the nature of humanity, leads to the second off-shoot of your education, and that is character. The character to respect the dignity of every human being – starting with yourself. To honor your personal ideals: your family and national heritage, even as you reach out to a wider world.

In a world of “many,” the real lesson of life is, “we are one.” This lesson is especially important at a time when those who harp on differences would divide and separate us. I believe we must keep our doors, and schools, and minds open, to share and build on our common humanity.

In fact, I suspect that after your experiences here, you probably could teach many global policy-makers a thing or two. You know the dangers of a “do it my way or no way” mentality. You know the importance of putting oneself in someone else’s place and seeing through his or her eyes.

Indeed, this understanding is part of the American way of life at its best, which respects the individuality that makes all people different, and at the same time, makes us fundamentally, humanly, the same.

Character grows out of everyday actions. No one is born a Mother Teresa. We learn as we go, reaching out to those we live and work with. And when we do, we grow a spirit of community that extends beyond our personal or national boundaries.

I know that just a few months ago, a Pittsburgh-area volunteer fire company named a La Roche student its “Firefighter of the Year.” Azeh Atout, who was introduced, became the first woman to win this award – a measure of her neighbors’ respect for her character and service. I’m proud to say that she is one of 25 Jordanians participating in the Pacem in Terris program.

I am quite sure that Azeh never dreamed she would someday be honored by America firefighters! And this in a year when America’s firefighters showed such extraordinary character themselves on September 11.

We can’t always know what life will ask of us, and what challenges lie ahead. However much we learn, however much we experience, we face the unexpected. It is character that carries us through.

Knowledge of the humanity we share with others, and having the character to act on that knowledge, lead naturally to a third off-shoot of your education at La Roche – compassion. 

In this Ark that is the Earth, we do not sail alone. Today, as I look at you, I carry with me the haunting faces of the young people I have been with recently, the victims of the terrible crisis in the Middle East. Their despair calls out to all of us.

Our world needs peace, but it cannot be a peace built on hatred and fear. It must be built on justice and mutual understanding. In the words of Martin Luther King, Junior: “we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

But there is another, perhaps more compelling reason for our involvement, and that is our self-respect. As human beings, we are called on to take personal responsibility for the well-being of all life. The great faiths, everywhere, recognize this. In the historic encyclical that gave its name to the Pacem in Terris Institute, Pope John the 23rd prayed that the people of the Earth might overcome the barriers that divide, cherish the bonds of mutual charity, and become as brothers. My faith, Islam, teaches peace, forgiveness and acceptance. The Koran tells us that to save even one innocent person is to save all humankind. “The Compassionate” is one of the names of God.

Today, everyone can make a difference, and everyone must try. We have no time to waste. We cannot afford to lose another generation to violence and despair. As we reach out for the benefits of 21st Century technology and innovation, we have to fortify our reservoirs of mutual understanding and build great rivers of justice. 

It’s time to act. My husband, His Majesty King Abdullah, always says:  We should exert efforts, not only for the benefit of the generations to come, but for the benefit of our generation.

Tonight, another class of graduates will leave La Roche. The last bags will be packed, the dorms will close, and you will head out into the world. 

Some of you will help your homelands find solutions to conflict. Others will find yourselves healing the wounds of ethnic violence. But I know many of you may return to peaceful homes and neighborhoods. You’ll start new jobs and families. Maybe you’ll feel that your life is just “ordinary.”

But no life is ordinary. It takes all of us to build a better world, and each of you have something important to contribute. Through your knowledge, your character, and your compassion, you can make Pacem in Terris – peace on Earth – real for millions. Take these gifts with you when you leave today, plant them in your native soils, cultivate them as part of your lives… and I guarantee you, you will transform the world. 

Congratulations! And thank you very much.